A Christian Case Against the Literal Reading of Scripture

A Christian Case Against the Literal Reading of Scripture July 8, 2014

If being a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then it follows to think that Christians ought to be like Christ.

In many cases this might prove difficult. We do not know everything Christ did on Earth in the finest detail. In other cases, when overextended, this would be silly. It would be outrageous to say (as some people sometimes imply) that women cannot be Christians, because Jesus Christ was a man.

Here we see that even when trying to be a Christ follower it is crucial not to be a literalist. The point is that we exercise judgement the moment we attempt to follow Christ, in choosing what the relevant things to follow are. For Catholics, this is where tradition helps to guide, teach, and advise.

The opening description remains: To be a Christian is to be someone who tries to be Christ-like.

If this is true, then it follows to expect a serious Christian to read scripture like a Jew. Why? Well, because Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew. He read and taught scripture as a rabbi. (This also applies to the Apostles who, of course, were Jews, too.)

To review: IF being a Christian is to be Christ-like, THEN it is more than reasonable to read and interpret scripture in a Jewish, rabbinic way.

How do Jews read and interpret scripture? Not like Christian fundamentalists. Jews are not literalists.

Wikipedia has this helpful review:

Pardes refers to (types of) approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism (or – simpler – interpretation of text in Torah study).

  • Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — “plain” (“simple”) or the direct meaning.
  • Remez (רֶמֶז) — “hints” or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
  • Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: “inquire” (“seek”) — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
  • Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in ‘bone’) — “secret” (“mystery”) or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.

Each type of Pardes interpretation examines the extended meaning of a text. As a general rule, the extended meaning never contradicts the base meaning. The Peshat means the plain or contextual meaning of the text. Remez is the allegorical meaning. Derash includes the metaphorical meaning, and Sod represents the hidden meaning. There is often considerable overlap, for example when legal understandings of a verse are influenced by mystical interpretations or when a “hint” is determined by comparing a word with other instances of the same word.

This means that literalist readings of Genesis and more are not only dull and stupid, they are also, in a very real and serious way, highly unchristian because to read and interpret scripture the Bible in a literal, fundamentalist way is precisely to not read scripture as Christ did.

Therefore Christian “Biblical” approaches to science are much more than wretched science; they are an abuse of the simplest logical expectations of what it is to be a Christian.

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